Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation finds homes for fluffy friends

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By Danielle Lopez, Danielle Vabner, Erika Sauceda, Alexandra Cannon

AUSTIN, Tex.— In a small, bright blue room, Wendy Mitchell sits on the floor, prepared to perform her next surgery. She takes her sewing needle and thread and begins to stitch up her latest patient, a stuffed animal whose tail had been torn off by a dog just days before.

Mitchell is the founder of The Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation, a free Austin-based adoption agency for stuffed animals. The foundation also offers stuffed animal repair services and hosts petting zoos around Austin.

The animals, which range from a snowman in a tie to a psychedelic dinosaur, were either found, donated or, on occasion, they simply show up at Mitchell’s front steps.

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“Sometimes, they just knock on the door,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell runs The S.A.R.F., which began a little more than seven years ago,  out of  her small marketing office in Northeast Austin. She started the project as a creative outlet for her to write. With every new animal, she said she sits down and helps them write their own bios to post on the adoption website.

“It’s like a creative writing project for me,” Mitchell said. “I’m very much a writer and a Pixar fan. You can put as many adult concepts in their bios and the kids are going to still see a cute stuffed animal.”

By creating backstories to each animal, Mitchell said the animals become more appealing.

“You’re just creating a value to something without having to manufacture something new,” Mitchell said. “It’s just a matter of making something valuable again.”

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To apply, potential adopters can fill out an online application that outlines what their profession is, what their home life is like and why they think they are a good candidate. Mitchell said it’s very much like a real adoption agency application.

Last year, 11-year-old Melanie Sylvana was in search of a stuffed companion. She and her mother came across the The S.A.R.F website and adopted Allen, a stuffed pig who is an accountant. She said he now has his own office in her bedroom and often helps her with his math homework.

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“Buying an animal from a store is boring,” Sylvana said. “They don’t have a story or a name and I always forget about them. But I really love pigs and Allen was exactly what I wanted.”

Mitchell said the people who adopt The S.A.R.F. animals are not just children — adults adopt too. Collette Girourard, who works as the Commissary Manager at the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, used to be a correctional facilities officer. She attended one of Mitchell’s petting zoos and adopted Horace, a stuffed animal who used to be a prisoner and had been released from stuffed-animal Alcatraz.

“I just felt really qualified to care for this stuffed criminal,” Girourard said. “Horace and I just got back from a wonderful two-week camping vacation in September and another week vacation spent at Universal Studios.”

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Although it’s time consuming, Mitchell hopes to continue expanding The S.A.R.F. She often thinks of her 19-year-old stuffed platypus and wants to help people find their own friend.

“When people come and pick up their adopted animal, there’s something really magical about it,” Mitchell said.

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